Monday, September 23, 2013

Herman Bavinck's Epistemology

'The logos in the creatures corresponds with the logos in man and makes science possible' (Herman Bavinck's Reformed Dogmatics, Book 1, page 213)
Geerhardus Vos claimed, in his review of the original first volume of Bavinck's Dogmatiek, that Bavinck set forth in his prolegomena as Reformed epistemology "the same theory.. that has been set forth .. by the late Dr. Mc Cosh" (that is Scottish Common Sense Realism as K. Scott Oliphint correctly writes in his article Bavinck's Realism, the Logos Principle and Sola Scriptura).

This might seem surprising while It could easily suggest that Geerhardus Vos did not understand the objective Princeton set itself when creating the chair of biblical theology. This objective was summarized by Reverend Abraham Gosman at the inauguration of Geerhardus Vos as Professor of Biblical Theology:
´the student cannot take with any satisfaction or certainty the books of the Bible as trustworthy or authoritative without an investigation of his own´
Abraham Gosman refers here to the Perspicuitas of Scripture ('one of the firmest strongholds of the Reformation' writes Herman Bavinck in his Gereformeerde Dogmatiek, book 1 page 396). In a clear reference to both Hendrik de Cock and Abraham Kuyper, Herman Bavinck adds on page 397 of the first book of his Reformed Dogmatics:
'the clarity of Scripture is origin and guarantee of religious and political freedoms'
Compare with this: On Perspicuity of the Scriptures: the right of Private Judgment, Charles Hodge. The clarity of Scripture explains how John Witherspoon used Francis Hutcheson and Thomas Reid's work. John Witherspoon did exactedly what Emperor Julianus was affraid of, as Bavinck relates on page 526 of book 1 of his Reformed Dogmatics: 
'Emperor Julianus knew what he was doing when he took the pagan science away from Christians, fearing to be defeated with his own weapons.'
Bavinck's discussion of the Principia in science from page 145 onward (chapter 7) treats rationalism, empirism:
'we should ask ourselves is there not a need to revise this whole of newer philosophy, both in it's Cartesian and in it's Baconian direction.' (157)
He goes on to discuss realism (157). And concludes 'The same Logos, which shines in the world, must let its light shine also in our consciousness...'. However, Bavinck's numerous uses of the word Logos should be placed in the context of his understanding of revelation as 'a historic and organic unity, a mighty world controlling and world renewing system of acts of God' (GD I page 268) and Abraham Kuyper's understanding of preaching (see Predik het Woord [Preach the Word] by C. Veenhof). Page 303 and 304 of book 1 of Bavinck's Reformed Dogmatics beautifully summarizes the way the Logos functions in his dogmatics & how this links up both with the mentioned clarity of Scripture and the centrality of Preaching the Word in Kuyper's work:
In Christ, in the middle of history God has created an organic center; from there the circles are getting drawn ever wider, on which the light of revelation shines..

While head and heart, the totality of man in his being and consciousness has to be renewed, the revelation in this dispensation continuous through Scripture and church together.
'Scripture is the light of the church, the church is the life of the Scripture. Outside of the church Scripture is a riddle, an annoyance'
'Therefore Scripture does not stand alone. She should not be considered Deistically. She is rooted in a history of ages and is the fruit of the revelation under Israel and in Christ....The H. Scripture is the always living, eternally youthful word, which God sends now in this day and always to his people.'

On page 515 of his Reformed Dogmatics (book I) Bavinck's describes (and approves) the view of the Church fathers which describes the relationship between theology and philosophy as the relationship between the wise from the east that laid down their gifts before the Child Jesus. Schilder further develops this approach in a sermon on Matthew 2 'The Wise From The East And The Word Of God'. The outline of this sermon is: 
  • Lured by the Word of God in nature.
  • Guided by the Word of God in Scripture.
  • Kneeled before the Word of God in the flesh.
As I have said before, Schilder is a Bavinck interpreter, also concerning epistemology. On page 305 of the Reformed Dogmatics Bavinck summarizes how he sees the centrality of the Logos in his epistemology:
'By the Word God once created the world, through the Word he sustains it, through the Word He recreates her and also prepares her as His house. The theopneusty is therefore a permanent feature of the H. Scripture. She was not only theopneust at the moment that she was put to book: she is theopneust.'
When Bavinck says organic, he also means nature (GD I, page 275: De bijzondere openbaring kwam dus geheel op zich zelve te staan, zonder verband met natuur en geschiedenis.) The best way to understand the meaning of the word Logos in John 1 is to study the rest of the New Testament: John 4, Acts, Hebrews Revelations...

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